Vaulted ceilings, also known as sloped or cathedral ceilings, are a popular architectural element that can add dramatic style and expanded space to a room. This comprehensive guide covers everything about vaulted ceilings including definitions, types, pros and cons, design considerations, construction, and decorating ideas.

A vaulted ceiling refers to any ceiling with a raised or arched shape that slopes up on one or more sides. The angled shape gives the ceiling height a peaked accent rather than being flat. Vaulted ceilings evoke a spacious, airy feel and create unique architecture.

What is a Vaulted Ceiling?

A vaulted ceiling is a ceiling design where the ceiling has an arched or sloped shape up to the peak rather than being flat horizontally. The angled or curved shape gives the ceiling more height and volume on one or both ends of the room.

Key traits of vaulted ceilings:

  • Ceiling height raises up on one or both sides to a peak or apex point
  • Slopes upward from the top wall plate level
  • Creates an expanded, arched interior space
  • Opens up space and gives height accent
  • Angled framing required for support
  • Often finished with drywall, planks, or exposed framing

Vaulted ceilings are also known as cathedral ceilings, sloped ceilings, pitched ceilings, or raised ceilings. The terms are often used interchangeably.

vaulted ceiling

Types of Vaulted Ceilings

There are a few common configurations of vaulted ceilings:

Shed Ceiling

A shed ceiling vaults in one direction starting from a higher wall up to a peak on the other side. Shed ceilings are popular in entryways, hallways, kitchens, and bathrooms.

Vault Ceiling

A vault ceiling contains a barrel-shaped vault curve running parallel between two walls. The rounded vault shape provides visual expansion.

Tray Ceiling

Tray ceilings have a flat central plane but angle up on all sides to a perimeter peak or square tray outline. Tray ceilings add modern or traditional character.

Scissor Truss Ceiling

Crisscrossing scissor trusses in opposing directions create a dramatic peaked ceiling effect. The framing echoes Gothic architecture.

Pros and Cons of Vaulted Ceilings

Vaulted ceilings provide many aesthetic and practical advantages but also have downsides to consider:


  • Create sense of expanded space and volume
  • Allow higher clearance for tall windows and doors
  • Visually raise low ceilings to appear taller
  • Angled shape adds architectural interest
  • Allow use of area along the slopes
  • Enable clerestory windows or skylights
  • Improve natural lighting spread


  • Cost more than standard ceilings to frame and finish
  • Require specialized knowledge and labor to construct
  • Can create echoes and noise transfer issues
  • Make it harder to install and access ceiling-mounted systems like lighting, fans, speakers, etc.
  • Limited space for insulation above ceiling
  • Angles and slopes make decorating and furnishing more challenging

Vaulted Ceilings by Room

Vaulted ceilings can be used in many interior spaces but work especially well in these rooms:

  • Living Rooms – The peaked shape lends an expansive, airy quality perfect for relaxation. Allows taller windows and fireplace.
  • Entryways – Provides impressive architectural flair right when entering the home. Creates a grand impression.
  • Dining Rooms – Draws attention upward and makes the space feel voluminous. Creates intimacy for dining.
  • Kitchens – Opens up smaller kitchens and gives modern flair. Allows tall cabinetry and pendant lights.
  • Bedrooms – Feels cozy yet spacious. Provides character and allows taller furniture.

Vaulted Ceiling vs. Flat Ceiling vs. Cathedral Ceiling

There are a few key differences between the main ceiling configuration options:

Flat Ceiling

  • Ceiling runs flat and horizontal wall-to-wall
  • Simplest design and construction
  • Provides accessibility to ceiling space easily
  • Typical ceiling height of 8 or 9 feet
  • Can feel restrictive in rooms with low ceilings
flat ceiling
flat ceiling

Vaulted Ceiling

  • Ceiling angles upward from walls to peak
  • Expands visual space but reduces usable ceiling area
  • More complex angled framing
  • Peaked height draws the eyes upward
  • Slopes make ceiling access and decorating trickier
cathedral ceiling
Cathedral Ceiling

Cathedral Ceiling

  • Very tall angled or arched ceiling like in cathedrals
  • Extends to the roofline with no attic space
  • Has dramatic two-story vertical feel
  • Difficult to access ceiling utilities
  • Requires special insulation considerations


Flat ceilings offer simplicity while vaulted add space and cathedral ceilings maximize height for a grand effect. Vaulted provides a middle ground striking balance.

Construction Steps for Vaulted Ceilings

Here is an overview of the vaulted ceiling construction process:

  • Confirm desired ceiling heights, slopes, and peak elevation on plans
  • Install raised top wall plates sized to achieve the ceiling slopes
  • Frame out the roof structure above using rafters, joists, or trusses
  • Sheath roof framing with plywood or OSB leaving vaulted area open
  • Install ceiling drywall, planks, or panels fastened to sloped framing members
  • Finish ceiling with smooth drywall finish, exposed beams, or other desired materials
  • Install insulation above ceiling between framing but leave air gaps for ventilation
  • Add lighting, fans, speakers, etc. ensuring adequate bracing on slopes
  • Trim out ceiling transitions neatly with crown molding or similar

Proper architectural and structural planning is critical prior to framing a vaulted ceiling. The ceiling shape and slopes should coordinate with the roof design.

Vaulted Ceiling Framing Ideas

Common framing approaches to support a vaulted ceiling include:

  • Rafters – Use angled rafters spaced closely to span from wall plate to roof ridge. Must align with roof.
  • Trusses – Prefabricated wooden triangle trusses offer long unsupported spans. Various configurations create peaks.
  • Joists – Shorter angled joists can frame from wall to intermediate beam. Provide access above.
  • Scissor Trusses – Two layers of crisscrossing trusses create visual peaks and slopes.
  • Steel Framing – Lightweight steel studs and tracks framed like rafters provide one option.

An engineer should design the framing for structural loads, spans, and integrating properly with the roof system.

Vaulted Ceiling Lighting Options

Lighting a sloped vaulted ceiling presents challenges but many fixture types can provide good illumination:

  • Recessed Can Lights – Versatile and unobtrusive. Place strategically to light slopes.
  • Track Lighting – Flexible track heads can be aimed to direct light.
  • Pendant Lights – Suspended fixtures add style. Position over seating areas.
  • Sconces – Mounted wall fixtures throw light upward to reflect off ceiling.
  • Ceiling Fans – Fans with built-in lights serve dual purposes. Use on high ceilings.
  • Skylights – Great for daytime ambient lighting from above. Consider solar tubes to limit heat gain.

Proper planning of the lighting layout and using dimmers provides the flexibility to create various lighting scenes.

Best Paint Colors for Vaulted Ceilings

Some top paint colors to consider for vaulted ceilings:

  • Soft white or extra white to maximize brightness and enhance the sense of height. Avoid too stark of a white which can seem clinical.
  • Off-whites like ivory, cream, or almond to add warmth while still reflecting light effectively.
  • Light gray colors open up the space and add subtle contrast from white walls. Avoid going too dark.
  • Celestial blues provide an airy feel and complement many wall colors. Often used in bedrooms.
  • Wood stains on sloped planks or beams blend nicely and add rustic charm. Use neutral transparent stains.

Lighter colors work best to keep the ceiling feeling bright and expansive. Accentuate the drama with bolder walls.

How to Decorate a Vaulted Ceiling Bedroom

Decorating tips for bedrooms with vaulted ceilings:

  • Use tall bookcases, wardrobes, and headboards to draw the eye upwards.
  • Hang long draperies on sloped windows and extend rods past windows for cohesion.
  • Position bed on the opposite wall from peaked side to allow tall headboard.
  • Add wall-mounted sconces flanking bed to distribute light.
  • Include multiple lighting sources on dimmers for flexible ambiance.
  • Addarchitecture with exposed beams, plank sheathing, trim accents.
  • Install pendant lights to accentuate the angles overhead.
  • Use patterned wallpaper or textured paints on peaked wall to create focus.
  • Place furniture such as chairs and desks to take advantage of sloped areas.

Installing Recessed Lighting in Vaulted Ceilings

Strategies for installing recessed can lights in vaulted ceilings:

  • Determine locations based on room furniture layouts and activities. Mark on ceiling and framing.
  • Choose adjustable gimbals or pivoting trims to direct light on slopes.
  • For cathedral ceilings, use insulation-contact rated (IC) housings.
  • Cut ceiling opening holes between framing members. Verify no obstructions before cutting.
  • Extend wiring from switches through framing cavities and sleeved through drilled holes. Leave slack.
  • Mount housings securely to framing with long screws into rafters or blocking.
  • Patch and finish drywall edges around recessed housings for blended appearance.
  • Group lighting zones appropriately for control by wall switches and dimmers.

Careful planning of can light placements plus using dimmers creates ideal vaulted ceiling lighting.

Vaulted Ceiling Design Ideas

Here are some creative ways to make the most of your vaulted ceiling:

  • Expose architectural elements like beams, trusses, rafter tails to showcase the framing.
  • Add visual interest with planks, tongue-and-groove, or distressed wood sheets on the ceiling.
  • Incorporate accent colors or patterns on the sloped sides only to create focal points.
  • Install a small chandelier or pendant fixture as a centerpiece visible from below.
  • Use taller windows and doors to take advantage of the extra ceiling height.
  • Create small usable nooks tucked under the peaks for reading chairs or shelves.
  • Accentuate peak walls with bold wall coverings like grasscloth or geometrics.
  • Add delicate hanging mobiles or floating shelves on angles to draw the eye upward.

Vaulted Ceilings in Small Spaces

Vaulted ceilings can work nicely even in small rooms when well-executed:

  • Shed ceilings starting at 8 feet elevation make rooms feel less confined.

-Include windows high on the slope or skylights to add spaciousness.

  • Light colors are essential to prevent closing in the space.
  • Limit steep pitches which can seem overwhelming. 10-12:12 pitch ideal.
  • Use streamlined, airy furnishings that don’t clutter the room.
  • Multi-level shed ceilings provide peaks without overwhelming space.
  • Include plenty of lighting, ideally with dimmers. Wall sconces are key.
  • Skip heavy exposed beams and stay minimalist to prevent closing in ceiling.

Installing Ceiling Fans on Vaulted Ceilings

Considerations for installing ceiling fans in vaulted ceilings:

  • Strategically place between two joists or beams so fan mounts flush to framing.
  • Use a fan rated for angled ceiling mounting. Fans must be vertically mounted.
  • Shorter downrods are usually required to provide proper blade clearance on slopes.
  • Verify a standard ceiling box will reach the slope location to connect fan.
  • Auxiliary blocks between framing members may be needed to fully support fan weight.
  • Fans with longer blades compensate for angled airflow on steeper pitches.
  • Provide sufficient ceiling height so blades stay 12-18 inches from ceiling.
  • Install fan on highest part of ceiling to maximize airflow distribution.

Best Flooring for Rooms with Vaulted Ceilings

Flooring options that pair well with vaulted ceilings:

  • Hardwood with wide planks enhances the sense of expanded space and warmth. Walnut and oak nice on slopes.
  • Stone tile like slate, travertine, or marble complements the grandeur of a vaulted ceiling.
  • Flagstone or wood-look tile adds natural, earthy contrast to the drama overhead.
  • Laminate flooring provides affordable wood aesthetics that harmonize nicely.
  • Natural linoleum sheet adds texture and pairs with the openness of vaulted shapes.
  • Stone wool or jute area rugs provide needed softness underfoot without competing.

Flooring that extends into peaks helps connect the entire space together stylishly.


Vaulted ceilings provide expanded volume, architectural character, increased daylight, and a greater sense of space compared to standard flat ceilings. Although there are some downsides to consider, when thoughtfully designed and integrated into a home, vaulted ceilings create stunning interior architecture. With creative detailing and decorating, vaulted ceilings can transform ordinary rooms into extraordinary spaces full of style, drama, and inspiration.

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